The fact that nearly ten Vietnamese women have participated in small international beauty pageants in the past two years without official permission, leaves one to wonder whether the risks are too small or the benefits are too large.
Dieu Linh, a Ho Chi Minh City model, flew to Malaysia to join the Miss Tourism Queen International 2014 in December.
Dieu Linh never applied for official permission from the Ministry of Culture and Information and news of her violation only became known to the public after she won two lesser titles: Miss South East Asia and Best in National Costume.
According to Vietnam's official rules, every woman who wants to compete abroad must hold at least a national title in order to qualify for permission to compete abroad from the Ministry of Culture and Information.
Dieu Linh spoke to Thanh Nien newspaper right after she returned to Ho Chi Minh City early this month.
She said she was willing to pay any penalty the local authorities deemed appropriate.
“The invitation letter (from the Malaysian pageant organizers) came too late that I didn't have time to apply for permission,” said Linh. “However, I have set aside all [the money] to cover the fine.”
Dieu Linh was the latest to take this roundabout route to an international beauty pageant and was punished soon after her homecoming.
Phan Hoang Thu, the winner of a local modelling contest in 2012 competed at the Miss Tourism Queen International the year before without permission from the authorities. Thu was the first to be fined and paid VND16 million (some US$750) for her violation in January 2014.
In September, Cao Thuy Linh, another aspiring beauty known locally for a photo series that featured her nude on a horse, competed at the Miss Grand International 2014 in Thailand and claimed the title of the Best in National Costume.
Thuy Linh later had to pay VND30 million (US$1,400) and was barred from competing at home for three months. She had received the highest punishment the local authorities could give, according to a decree that went into effect on January 1, 2014.
Huynh Thuy Anh, a student in Ho Chi Minh City, was punished for participating in a beauty contest in the United States that same month. The VND22.5 million ($1,050) penalty was not enough to prevent her from flying to Germany to compete in the Miss Intercontinental in November.
Anh wasn't fined after returning from Germany. It isn't clear how she was able to walk away from her second violation. But some believe it may have had something to do with the fact that she didn't win a title during either trip.
Also in the month of September (known as “beauty season” due to the profusion of small pageants), Tuong Vy, an unknown model working at the Venus Fashion agency, joined the Miss Vietnam USA, a competition organized by the Viet Kieu (overseas Vietnamese) community in California and claimed the top prize. She later had to pay VND30 million for violating the Ministry of Culture's regulations on such matters.
In August 2013, Que Van, a relatively unknown local singer, enjoyed a rush of attention after winning first runner-up at the Miss Vietnam Global 2013 in the United States.
Van won her title as a 30 year old mother of two, sparking rumors that she had paid around US$40,000 for the title. She denied the allegations, saying that the penalty of VND12 million was the only money she paid for the honor.
Asked why they did not apply for permission, most answered that their letters of invitation came too late and the ministry's permit application process usually takes four to five days.
In reality, these women typically don't have a chance of obtaining official permission.
“None of them have a national beauty title, so they can't qualify for a permit to compete in an international beauty pageant,” said an official on condition of anonymity.
Where's the money?
The precise winnings handed out at these small-scale beauty contests are rarely disclosed, but everyone knows they are small at best.
The competitors travel and take on the fines hoping to rack up titles that will bring them greater notoriety.
Moreover, while the small titles don't do much to advance their name, the publicity surrounding their punishment does raise their public profile and open doors to more money.
According to authorities, the punishments (which max out at a VND30 million or $1,400 fine and a three-month performance suspension) represent “nothing at all” to aspiring models.
“Most models make very little at the pageants," said the manager of a local modeling agency, speaking on condition of anonymity. "They really earn money from attending events and posing for ads, which are not considered ‘performances.' That’s why they don’t care about the suspensions.”
The manager said that all the authorities can do is bar the women from leaving the country.
“That's the only way. They can't ask pageant organizers in another country to participate in upholding these bans.”
Dieu Linh, a Ho Chi Minh City model, was the latest to be fined for participating in an international beauty pageant without permission. File photo
Cao Thuy Linh, another model known only for a nude photo-shoot involving a horse, participated in the Miss Grand International 2014 in Thailand in September and claimed the title of the Best in National Costume. File photo
On August 2013, Que Van, a local singer who was basically unknown, suddenly got the attention of the local press after winning first runner-up at Miss Vietnam Global 2013.
Huynh Thuy Anh, a student in Ho Chi Minh City, was punished for participating in a beauty contest in the United States in September 2014 without permission from the Vietnamese authorities.